HUD to Strengthen Landlords’ Rights in Service Animal Requests

May 15, 2019

REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo

Landlords and property managers are entitled to “reliable verification” of a tenant’s need for a service animal and can require proof beyond an online certification, a Department of Housing and Urban Development official said Tuesday at the REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C.

Lynn Grosso, director of HUD’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Enforcement Office, told the Land Use, Property Rights & Environment Committee that a predatory cottage industry has developed for assistance animal certifications. Consumers are being misled to believe that an online verification letter—often provided by unlicensed medical professionals at a cost of a few hundred dollars—guarantees them the right to have an animal in multifamily housing regardless of pet policy, she added.

Therapy Dog Helping Disabled Senior Man

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“HUD does not recognize these pay-to-play certifications as reliable,” Grosso said. “You should not feel held hostage by a policy where tenants don’t have to demonstrate in a reliable manner a legitimate need for the assistance of an animal.”

Grosso said HUD is developing new guidance that will address for the first time what “reliable verification” means as it pertains to tenants’ service animal requests. It’s not clear when the guidance, which is currently under federal review, will be released.

But Grosso offered some clarity to the committee Tuesday on the substance of the guidance. While landlords and property managers are legally prohibited from inquiring about the nature or severity of a tenant’s disability, they can express concern about the reliability of a service animal certification letter and provide steps for the tenant to take for further verification. This may include asking the tenant to provide additional documentation from their medical provider. The most reliable form of verification is a letter from a medical provider who has a history of treating the tenant, and the letter should name the tenant’s disability and the animal most qualified to assist him or her, Grosso said. “It’s best to have a policy on this issue rather than doing it on an ad hoc basis,” she added.

However, if you can “readily observe” that a tenant has a disability and an animal that provides a service, it’s wise not to push the issue of additional verification, Grosso said. She added that HUD’s forthcoming guidance also will address exotic animals such as alligators and the number of animals each individual tenant can request in their unit.

It’s important not to trivialize the issue of service animals because of abuses of the law, Grosso said. “Very often, there is some nefarious attribution to people who request assistance animals,” she said. “But many times, there are people with significant disabilities who legitimately need the assistance of a service animal. They bear the burden of the effects of service animal abuses.”